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Planning Board Conditionally Approves Cafritz Rezoning, 4-0

After 15 hours of testimony and discussion, board members voted to back the hotly debated plan.

The Prince George's County Planning Board hearing on the proposed rezoning of the Cafritz property concluded on Thursday. Below is a recap of the discussion and vote.

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7:00 p.m.: APPROVED

The motion carries, 4-0. The planning board has approved the Cafritz rezoning plan (or in official terms, "recommended approval of the rezoning application with compromise conditions by staff and applicant as modified at the hearing").

The application now heads to the District Council—composed of the members of the Prince George's County Council—for its vote.

6:45 p.m.: 'Exceptional, transparent, cooperative, deliberative'

Board member Shuanise Washington calls the process "exceptional, transparent, cooperative, [and] deliberative," saying that the developer "bent over backwards" to accommodate many of the concerns of the surrounding communities.

Washington moves to approve the staff recommendation ("approval with conditions") subject to further revisions. Before calling the vote, she begins to go through the list of conditions line by line to incorporate changes from the hearing.

6:37 p.m.: New considerations

Board member John Shoaff suggests the addition of two new considerations:

  • That the developer seek a "quiet zone" from CSX so that the railroad would attempt to minimize noise near the project.
  • That the developer pursue regional economic partnership with existing business groups along the Route 1 corridor.

6:20 p.m.: Public comment period ends

With no other audience member rising to speak, the public comment period comes to a close. Board members begin to ask Cafritz attorney Chip Reed for clarification on several points of the application.

6:13 p.m.: County exec's office speaks

Brad Frome, deputy chief of staff for County Executive Rushern Baker, calls the consensus conditions "very detailed and hard fought."

"Our county needs and requires the type of investments that are game changers, such as a Whole Foods and the retail it would bring," Frome says.

Vice Chairwoman Dorothy F. Bailey lightly admonishes Frome at the end of his time, asking him to advise the county executive that comments should have been limited specifically to the conditions for approval.

6:06 p.m.: Ebbeler defends use of M-UTC

Riverdale Park council member Jonathan Ebbeler (Ward 1) begins by defending Toscano—again without mentioning her name—by noting that he, too, had been displaced from his home while serving on the council. Ebbeler's house was damaged by a fire in March, forcing him to temporarily live outside of his ward.

Ebbeler also defends the transparency of the rezoning process and argues against the notion that M-UTC was ill-suited for the development.

"The whole intention of the original town plan is that we had two town centers," Ebbeler said, describing the Cafritz plan as a third iteration of the same zone.

5:40 p.m.: A question of eligibility

University Park resident Ellen Thorp says she is "greatly concerned" that one of the council members who voted to support the rezoning was not living in town at the time.

Though not by name, Thorp's comments refer to former council member Tracy Toscano (Ward 5). At last week's University Park council meeting, town attorney Suellen Ferguson said that she had investigated the question of Toscano's eligibility and determined that Toscano had held her seat legitimately throughout her term. However, Toscano stepped down from her seat after communicating her intention to lease a residence in Ward 6.

Thorp also criticizes the proposed financing of the CSX crossing, calling it an "undue and unfair burden to expect taxpayers to fund the bridge."

5:36 p.m.: Dumm's owner speaks

Pete Spiropolous, owner of , speaks briefly in favor of the project and praises its road connection to Riverdale Park Town Center.

5:19 p.m.: 'Lift the cap'

University Park Town Council member James Gekas (Ward 2) calls the project "an odd duck … it's like a mini-city under M-UTC."

Gekas urges the board to lift the $5 million cap that the conditions would place on the developer's direct contribution to the CSX crossing.

"We wouldn't be talking about a bridge here … but for the Cafritz development," Gekas says.

4:46 p.m.: 'Have its cake and eat it too'

University Park resident Victor Stone argues that if Riverdale Park supports the rezoning of the Cafritz Property to M-UTC, more road connections should be made to the area turn it into a genuine town center.

"Riverdale Park is trying to have its cake and eat it too," Stone says. "There's absolutely no reason at all that Sheridan and Tuckerman Streets shouldn't be required to connect to Maryland Avenue."

4:38 p.m.: About 20 people left

Six hours into today's session, we're told there are still about 20 people left on the list of people signed up to testify.

Last month's session lasted just over seven hours, so all told, the Cafritz hearing has run about 13 hours so far.

4:31 p.m.: 'A mere wish sandwich'

University Park resident Susan Dorn calls it "astonishing" that the Cafritz team would be concerned about the cost of additional bike racks (see update, 12:20 p.m.) given the enormous price tag of the development.

Dorn also raises numerous environmental and safety concerns about the development and argues that there is no evidence the CSX crossing will significantly improve the traffic situation around the site.

"It is a mere wish sandwich," Dorn says.

4:13 p.m.: CSX crossing is key

College Park resident Cynthia Finley speaks in support of the application, emphasizing the importance of the condition requiring the developer to partially fund and build a bridge over the CSX tracks.

3:58 p.m.: Keep the record open

University Park resident Jayson Amster asks that the record be kept open after today's hearing in light of documents introduced into the record yesterday: a letter from University Park to the board and a market study submitted by the developer.

General counsel notes that the record will close today if the planning board holds a vote, but that a new record will open when the District Council takes up consideration the board's referral.

Amster then goes on to criticize the conditions, arguing that they do nothing to address the density of the development.

"The applicant is using these conditions to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but if you look at them carefully, they don't work," Amster adds.

3:40 p.m.: Traffic questions

Frank Tavani, who introduces himself as a traffic engineer from Philadelphia, rises to speak at the behest of "concerned residents." General counsel says that because he is not an attorney, he cannot enter comments on behalf of another person in this context. After some discussion about Tavani's qualifications and whether he can be admitted as an expert witness—an issue raised by Cafritz attorney Chip Reed—he instead decides to speak as individual. 

During his address, Tavani questions whether the traffic mitigation measures in the the conditions are sufficiently stringent and whether they allow the developer too much leeway.

3:20 p.m.: 'Rain on the parade'

"I guess I'm here to rain on the parade a little bit," begins College Park Attorney Robert Manzi. The College Park City Council voted against the rezoning by a 6-2 margin.

"I find it so unusual that all of a sudden the [planning] staff is recommending we ignore the master plan," Manzi says, arguing that the county's master plan lacks any explicit reference to applying M-UTC to the Cafritz site.

3:05 p.m.: Conditions are consistent

University Park Mayor John Tabori tells the board that the modified conditions submitted by the applicant are fully consistent with those approved by the University Park Town Council in a 4-3 vote.

He asks the board to convert the Transportation Demand Management District—currently listed by the planning staff as a non-binding consideration—into a binding condition.

3:00 p.m.: A proponent, not an applicant

The board's counsel says that—after further research—Riverdale Park is not required to be a co-applicant in the matter. Instead, it will be considered a "proponent" of the rezoning application per its own label.

2:45 p.m.: Six, not eight

Asked by the board for clarification, Archer says that it is Riverdale Park's intention to limit buildings to a height of six stories, not eight.

2:26 p.m.: Co-applicant?

Board members have asked for clarification as whether Riverdale Park is a co-applicant for the rezoning, as its letter to the board "requested" that the M-UTC zone be extended to include the Cafritz property.

Riverdale Park attorney Frederick Sussman says that he does not believe the town to be a co-applicant in the sense that it did not submit a formal application in the matter. The board's counsel has stepped out of the room to conduct research on the question.

2:20 p.m.: We're back

The hearing has resumed, and Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer is first to the mic. Archer recaps the process of finalizing the conditions and incorporating them into the planning department's report over the past three weeks. He reiterates that the town is in support of the Cafritz application subject to the agreed upon conditions.

1:32 p.m.: Recess!

Vice chairwoman Dorothy Bailey calls a 30-minute recess.

1:29 p.m.: The master plan

The county's master plan clearly outlines a vision for the site in line with Mixed-Use Town Center zoning, Reed argues—a precondition for zoning the site as such. The Cafritz team made a detailed argument to that in effect in a letter sent to the board last week.

Critics note that the county's master plan does not explicitly call for an M-UTC designation at the site.

1:23 p.m.: Hyattsville CDC study

Reed discusses the Route One Communities Retail Market Study submitted to the board by the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation. He says the report backs up the applicant's contention that there is an undersupply of grocery stores and restaurants in the area of the Cafritz property.

12:58 p.m.: Traffic

With Reed still at the mic, the conversation now turns to traffic-related conditions, including the CSX crossing and Maryland Avenue connection.

12:42 p.m.: Porches

Reed raises a concern about a condition that would "strongly encourage" all residences—rather than just townhomes—to include porches, a requirement that could pose difficulties with multifamily units. He adds that the developer is willing to go along with Riverdale Park's opinion on the matter. The board says it will discuss the issue with town officials later in the day.

12:20 p.m.: Bike parking

Reed and board member John Shoaff discuss Shoaff's LEED-based amendment to strengthen the requirements for bike parking on site. Reed says that, as phrased, the change could force the developer to install an excessive amount of capacity. He recommends different wording.

12:10 p.m.: Chip Reed at the mic

The board invites Cafritz attorney Chip Reed to the lectern, where he begins to discuss further proposed modifications to the conditions.

11:58 a.m.: Whole Foods finding

Susan Lareuse discusses the decision to move consensus condition #14—regarding the role of Whole Foods in the planned development—to the "findings" section, where it is included "for informational purposes only." Lareuse explains that the change is necessary because zoning cannot dictate the specific mix of tenants.

An attorney for the board says that while the language of the finding is acceptable, it is "absolute legal nonstarter" for the the board to condition any zoning decisions on particular businesses or retailers.

As the finding notes, the developer has entered into a separate private covenant with Riverdale Park which holds it to the same Whole Foods-related requirements.

11:12 a.m.: 7,500 vs. 2,500

Susan Lareuse outlines one change from the consensus conditions.

As originally written, any new development that would increase floor space by 15 percent or 7,500 sqft. would "subject the site to full review for compliance with the design standards."

Due to a conflict with zoning ordinance, Lareuse says the staff lowered that threshold to 5 percent or 2,500 sqft.

11:04 a.m.: CSX bridge placement

Board member John Shoaff suggests a revision: that the Historic Preservation Commission be asked to weigh in on the location of the planned CSX crossing.

The draft conditions already calls on the commission to review the site plans for any impact to archeological features, the ERCO historic site, and adjacent historic districts.

10:30 a.m.: Conditions

County planner Susan Lareuse is currently walking board members through the planning department's recommendation on the application of "approval with conditions."

After the board's Jan. 12 session, the recommendation was updated to reflect nearly every point of the consensus conditions agreed to between Riverdale Park, University Park, and the developer.

Earlier, the board rejected a petition for a 30-day continuance from University Park resident Victor Stone.

Original article

The proposed rezoning of the Cafritz property will once again come before the Prince George's County Planning Board on Thursday, three weeks after members on the developer's application.

The meeting is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the County Administration Building (14741 Governor Oden Bowie Dr., Upper Marlboro).

At the end of last month's marathon public comment session, board members took the hearing into recess, giving planning department staff more time to review the consensus conditions finalized between Riverdale Park, University Park, and the developer.

Under the , the developer's 37-acre parcel on the north end of Riverdale Park would be redesignated from residential (R-55) to Mixed-Use Town Center (MUTC), easing the way for the construction of more than 900 units of housing, a 35,000-square foot Whole Foods, a 120-room hotel, and additional office and retail space.

Both the Riverdale Park (5-0) and University Park (4-3) town councils approved the rezoning plan subject to the consensus conditions, which would impose strict environmental, financial and traffic mitigation requirements on the developer. 

College Park, though a participant in negotiations, voted against the plan 6-2.

In a memo dated Jan. 25, the planning staff reiterated its recommendation of "approval with conditions" to the board, incorporating nearly every point of the agreement between the towns and the Cafritz team.

Since Jan. 12, the planning board has published a large collection of additional correspondences and documents relating to the Cafritz application:

Additional in-person testimony will be heard at Thursday's hearing if it relates to the aforementioned conditions, according to Vice Chairwoman Dorothy Bailey.

Jenni Pompi (Editor) February 02, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Thanks for keeping us updated, John!
Nick February 02, 2012 at 09:57 PM
There seems to be a lot of food analogies being thrown around.
susan February 02, 2012 at 11:04 PM
thanks for all your work! i'm at the hearing and it's even helpful to those of us here!
M. Hermanson February 03, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Thank you for the wonderful, detailed and timely coverage of the public meetings and hearings related to this development.
Michael B. Cron February 03, 2012 at 05:28 AM
I am not at all surprised about the 4-0 vote. The planning board would have approved the zoning change for a Disney Theme Park if it suited them! The people spoke, but no one listened.
Nick February 03, 2012 at 11:48 AM
By the people do you mean their elected representatives in Riverdale Park, University Park, Hyattsville, and the county executive's office?
Michael B. Cron February 03, 2012 at 01:38 PM
I mean we the residents of the surrounding municipalities. Not the elected representatives of Riverdale Park or University Park in their official capacity, but as concerned citizens. I did not matter if you where for or against it. We spoke, the planning board voted to approve it anyway (4-0) which shows me that the multitude of residents that spoke against Cafritz where not heard. The County's mind (the executive's office) was already made up. The hearing itself was an exercise in futility.
R. J. February 03, 2012 at 02:00 PM
@Michael B. Cron So if they had denied it, would that mean that they did not listen to the people that spoke in favor of it? By that logic, in any contentious issue, one side will always be able to claim that they were ignored, when, in fact, it wasn't that they were ignored, it was that they weren't agreed with by the decision makers.
Danny February 03, 2012 at 02:25 PM
@Michael Cron -- plenty of local residents spoke in favor of the project, both at the meeting and around the community over the past several months. there has (as always) been both passionate support and passionate opposition to the project, plus a whole bunch of people in the middle. MANY compromises were made; thus, the project was approved (at this stage, at least). how can you say that local residents were ignored when all those changes were made to the proposal? it seems you'd only be satisfied if you got everything you wanted (which apparently is for nothing to be built).
Danny February 03, 2012 at 02:33 PM
@RJ -- bingo! that's the exact mentality! i always think back to the ICC saga that extended for nearly half a century. when finally the state decided to move forward with the highway after decades of debate and compromise (and mounting costs), the opponents STILL claimed that they had been ignored, that all of the environmental studies were a sham, etc. there's a difference between being ignored and being on the losing side of a contentious issue. believe me, we're all on the losing side at some point. at least the "losers" here have received many promised improvements over the initial proposal. we're all better off in the long run because of that iterative democratic process.
susan February 03, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Just to weigh in (didn't see you there yesterday, Michael, were you watching it online?)... plenty of individuals spoke about the conditions, offered alternative language, modified conditions, and suggested new conditions. NOT A SINGLE SUGGESTION was alluded to, collectively discussed by the planning board members, or (no surprise) included in the final set of conditions. Only comments and suggestions by the towns of Riverdale Park and University Park were incorporated. I can say fully that individual residents' suggestions were ignored completely.
Adelphi Sky February 03, 2012 at 03:53 PM
@Mr. Cron - So, what about the thousands of PG residents that have felt ignored for decades when calling for upscale amenities within walking distance of their neighborhoods? That type of development is here and now all of a sudden the people are being ignored? You're looking at it from one point-of-view. There's always going to be a subset of individuals who feel that they somehow have been ignored. We find this in political elections, court cases, or anything else that involves a decision of who wins or who loses, who gets approved, or who gets denied. If you want to find fault, find it in those who sat idly by and didn't speak up to appose the development. Those who cared, on both sides, spoke and were heard. Your side had the burden to prove why the development shouldn't move forward. The proof wasn't enough. A decision was made. Life goes on.
susan February 03, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Actually, the planning board hearing and recommendation are just the first step of the process. Because of the nature of MUTC, there is plenty more opportunity to weigh in and really examine those suggested conditions in detail, even if you haven't participated, commented or testified before. I urge you to become acquainted with the planning board's recommended conditions. I'm certain that the set of conditions will be on the planning board website in the next week or so.
Mark Shroder February 03, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Patch should be commended for having a reporter at this hearing for eight and a half hours.
Joseph Grikis February 05, 2012 at 03:02 AM
My compliments to John D. and The Patch. I was unable to attend this session but thanks to your good work followed the proceedings as they unfolded. Good job.

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